Orthorexia was something I had never heard of as a teen, and overcoming orthorexia was something I never imagined I could say that I did. Yet, at the age of 24, I realized that I did, in fact, have the eating disorder that I had never even heard of, and didn't how to overcome. Orthorexia is an eating disorder where the individual is not only obsessed with health, but lets it rule all aspects of their life. Victims fear foods that aren’t perfectly pure or they may avoid all allergens, without even having one, because they believe it will harm their body. Orthorexia can ruin your financial life, social life, career, and your family life. My mother was actually the one who confronted me, and she didn’t know all of the meanings herself, but she knew I exhibited symptoms that weren’t normal of a typical woman my age when it came to what I ate and how I ate. What she learned was that I was, in fact, a walking poster image of someone with the disorder. When she confronted me, I denied it, obviously. Yet, when I saw what the symptoms were, I couldn’t ignore that they described me perfectly. I spent two years in denial, until my state of health forced me to begin overcoming orthorexia, with no previous knowledge of how to do so. To learn more and how to overcome this disorder, read on to see just what I did to overcome a disorder that once ruled my life.
1. Be Honest
The first tip to overcoming orthorexia is to be honest with yourself. How much does health consume your life? Does it rule whether you eat at a certain time, in a certain routine, or that you only choose the best, healthy, pure foods? The gray area here is a huge one. For instance, I’m still passionate about health, but I don’t fear food as I used to. I eat a very clean diet, and probably always will because a clean diet is what variably saved me from a life of unhealthy eating and depression. The difference is that now, I don’t freak out if I can’t eat a certain meal at a certain time, and I don’t think I have to eat the same foods everyday. I also don't have to have everything raw and organic as I once used to. You have to be honest with yourself. How much of your day is dedicated to pure, healthy eating, or learning about health? Those symptoms are both part of orthorexia, so be honest with yourself, which is the first step to recovery.
2. Make Small Changes
Overcoming any eating disorder, whether bulimia, anorexia, binge eating, or orthorexia, is a major task and you can’t do it all at one time. I often wished I could have. I made small changes and I credit this to helping me begin recovery, or I might never have. For instance, my disease started as anorexia, then morphed into orthorexia. I went from being obsessed with being skinny to being obsessed with being pure. I had transitioned into a raw, vegan diet, because I believed it was the ultimate way to eat. It ruled everything I did and disrupting those beliefs really took time. I started small. I wasn’t willing to eat grains or meats at all at first, and dairy was completely scary to me. So, I started small. I chose my first meal to be fish, since it was always a favorite of mine. I’ll be honest. It was hard. It took me almost 30 minutes to finish the dish, yet after I did, I truly felt like I had accomplished something and trust me, for someone who fears eating animals or disagrees with it, it can be an incredibly hard thing to do. You don't have to be an omnivore to overcome anorexia, but pick something small to start with, that doesn't align with your pure foods beliefs or regimen.
3. Don’t Judge Yourself
Yes, the idea of fearing food may seem silly to you and many of you will think this is completely out of the ordinary, but orthorexia is a very growing condition right now. I guess you could blame it on mainstream media, which is always finding something new in our foods to freak out about. They tell us you can’t have this, or that, and before you know it, you’re down to eating nothing but greens and juicing to live! Oh, and now some people even say there are down sides to those! Here’s my point: don’t judge yourself. You didn’t get to where you are because you wanted to. It happened, and now it's time to deal with it. Accepting this is a big step towards recovery, so be kind to yourself and let go of judgment.
4. Let Go
You’ve got to let go of a few beliefs if you really want to get better. For me, certain foods did not digest with me well and still don’t. I decided I wouldn’t eat foods that hurt to digest, like red meat, beans and gluten, but I let go of other inhibitions such as being raw and vegan. I had to start somewhere, and this was the easiest option for me. Let go of stereotypes and purity beliefs if you really want to overcome orthorexia. You will not die tomorrow if you eat something that isn’t pure. Trust me, I know!
5. Go to a Restaurant
Boy, can this be scary to someone with any eating disorder, especially orthorexia. Oh, and yes, I did investigate the menu before I went to my first restaurant, but just going, and knowing that I didn’t prepare the food or have control over every aspect of it was a major deal for me. In fact, it actually propelled my recovery since I learned that healthy dishes out can really be quite enjoyable and stress-free. It was also a way for me to socialize with others, when I hadn’t done so in a very long time because I was so consumed with health ruling my schedule and where I ate.
6. Eat with Others
One sign of orthorexia is that you usually eat alone because you want to, or because you know others might judge how you’re eating. So, if you want to recover or are trying to do so, be sure you eat with others when starting your recovery journey, and make it a regular practice. There is more to eating with someone than the food on your plate. Food can be a part of any social situation, and usually is. Embrace doing things with others, and sure, you can choose a healthy option, but remember that it doesn’t matter as much how perfect the meal is, as whom you are with.
7. Take It Day by Day
You can’t recover from orthorexia or any disorder overnight, and you won’t. It will probably be something you have to fight for years, or even your whole life, but it is possible. I managed to gain 30 pounds after being deathly underweight, and maintain my weight to this day, three years later. I do not eat vegan or completely raw, though I eat very healthy. There are days I’m tempted by new health research updates, or going back to old habits, but I remember now, how nice it is to be free of such imprisoning thoughts. That alone is enough to propel me forward. I also have a better relationship with my family, which has been one of the best aspects of healing.
Orthorexia is a serious disease and if you want to learn more, I suggest you check out The National Eating Disorder Associations website at nationaleatingdisorders.org. It can be a great tool in learning more about symptoms and recovery. Do you know anyone with this disorder?